Learning Languages at the Age of 6 Months? Little Pim Does It!
Bonjour lecteurs et lectrices. Qu’est-ce que c’est? Check with a two-year old. Chances are, if the little one has been watching a DVD called Little Pim, you may get your answer. And in any number of languages. Little Pim, a ground-breaking immersion and repetition animation video series was created by a bigger Pim—Julia Pimsleur Levine, the daughter of a renowned language professor whose eponymous “Pimsleur Method” introduced a highly successful technique for rapid language acquisition by adults. Taking its origin from her own childhood experience, Little Pim was created for children, babies, preschoolers. It owes its prompt to Ms. Levine’s desire to offer her own children the same gift of learning languages her parents gave to her. Behind that personal motivation, however, lies a sharply focused video series based on extensive research and close observation about how young children can best learn while having fun. The pace is slow, each episode no more than five minutes, the look highly professional.
A documentary filmmaker, as well as language teacher (with fluency in French, Italian, Spanish and German), Ms. Levine, who adds “mom” to her professional titles, spent a long time studying and testing what was already available for young children and came to the conclusion that what was out there did not meet important criteria for the introduction and retention of spoken foreign languages. She had a four-year old at the time who was an “Elmo” junkie, and she appreciated the attraction that animal characters held for the very young. She wanted a program that would be engaging, easy to use and attractive to young children everywhere. It was her mother, Beverly Pimsleur, however, who suggested a panda. At the least, Pim the Panda alliterates, but at the most the adorable soft and cuddly creature has proved his worth in ways well beyond that of language acquisition.
The programs subtly introduce “panda facts,” a wee bit of China lore, and ecological concerns about saving a beautiful and exotic species from extinction. Ms. Levine also points out – one of the many sharp effects of her experience with film - that the black and white panda shows up well on screen. Little babies, she points out, see in black and white, not color, so Little Pim is age appropriate – it’s for infants, toddlers, pre-Ks. And also for monolingual adults, who are warmly invited by way of a “Parents’ Guide” to watch the DVDs with their children.
When to start? Ms. Levine wisely doesn’t go there, “that’s a personal choice,” she says, but she does note that parents and grandparents are choosing Little Pim in increasing numbers, including—great PR, this—Angelina Jolie, and customers in Babies R Us stores all over the country, not to mention libraries where companion books to the DVD series have been receiving a lot of attention. When to move on? Probably around the age of five, Ms. Levine suggests, because at that age “kids want a narrative” and more computer time—shrewd observations that suggest that Little Pim Phase Two, an interactive program for older children, is on the way. In the meantime, the panda is proving especially multilingual: in response to requests, he now paws his way around in Hebrew, Italian and Japanese, with phonetic visuals available.
For Ms. Levine, the three-year old series is not just a language-acquisition program but also a “mission” to “democratize language learning.” It just so happens that this goal is consonant with President Obama’s belief that every child should be learning a foreign language. Child friendly, affordable ($17.95), well made (by the award-winning production company, Asterisk, and the filmmaking company, Arts Engine, Inc., Little Pim promises to “bear” 180 words in a foreign language to all who listen and watch. #